'12 Monkeys' Recap: 'The Red Forest'
When Cole winds up in an alternate 2043, he has to go back in time to save Cassie future—and his own.
Cole’s in a bad place, metaphorically and literally, on 12 Monkeys. After finding the Night Room but failing to stop the viral outbreak, Cole was thrown back into 2043 at the end of the last episode, only to find that the future had in fact changed—but not for the better.
Instead, he returns to a 2043 in “The Red Forest” where the West 7 rules the time travel facility, Jones is a lowly repairwoman, and a Nick Fury-looking Ramse, complete with eyepatch and badass coat, now runs the West 7.
It all makes for an exciting launching point, with Cole finally feeling the effects of splintering through time and space. And though “Forest” serve more as setup for the rest of the season now that the Night Room is merely an exposed red herring, it is also a strong hour for the show that may, surprisingly, also be its funniest yet without undermining the gravity of the situation.
“Forest’s” divergent timeline allows the show to have fun with the established norms utilized since the pilot. In this new timeline, the plague started in a different year in Chechnya, and something called Operation Troy is paramount to understanding why. There’s no CDC, no Leland Goies, and no Cassie—and that’s because she died in this timeline. After the 12 Monkeys kidnapped her at the Night Room, she was eventually murdered and unable to play her integral role in both the viral outbreak and the attempts to stop it.
Cole needs to go back in time to save Cassie and hopefully set the universe back on the right path to humanity’s extinction, instead of this new one, where information is even more scarce. Whitley is still around as a guard, though he was much more of a Deacon fan than of Ramse. Using the time machine in this new reality may drain their base of all its power. Whitley refuses to take that risk, so he unloads a spray of bullets on Jones as she prepares the machine. One-eyed Ramse swiftly snaps Whitley’s neck, preventing anymore senseless violence (with violence, no less), and Jones, with her last dying breaths, powers up the machine for Cole.
Cole successfully winds up in 2015, shortly before Cassie and the other version of him infiltrate the Night Room.
But Cole can’t approach Cassie, so he turns to the next best thing—her jilted lover, Aaron, who, conveniently, works for a senator involved in something called Operation Troy. Now where have we heard that before?
Cole approaches Aaron outside of work… well, he doesn’t so much “approach” as he holds a knife to Aaron’s throat, but the result is still the same. Cole warns Aaron of Cassie’s impending doom, and that Cole needs his help because he can’t risk being too close to himself and causing a paradox. As much as Aaron doesn’t trust Cole, he doesn’t want to risk Cassie’s safety, and that Cole can name drop something as secret as Troy convinces him to go along with the plan.
Of course, Cole doesn’t really have a plan, his thought process about the whole assault boiling down to a simple few steps. Aaron should shoot the Pallid Man, then “haul ass and try not to get shot.”
Aaron is not much of a marksman, unfortunately, and instead of hitting the Pallid Man, clips other-Cole in the shoulder—which leads to a nice scene of the actual Cole immediately feeling the pain and receiving new memories of Jones stitching up his wound. The show would do well to play with time travel in these small-scale but intriguing ways in the future.
With this snafu, the 12 Monkeys still make off with Cassie, but Cole’s quick memory (which is surprising given how much head trauma he’s displayed so far in the episode) allows them to trace the van Cassie was thrown in by its license plate. They’re led to a greenhouse, where they ambush two thugs-for-hire. Improvising a good-cop-crazy-psycho-from-the-future-cop routine, the two find out where Cassie is being kept, and thankfully she’s still alive.
But they may want to hurry, as it sounds like the Pallid Man and his boss, the Witness, have no intention of letting her go.
Next: Visions of the future?
Cassie overhears the Pallid Man talking to a woman about killing Cassie, but this new figure explains that she’s too important to kill just yet. Apparently, her importance involves drugging her to induce some bizarre hallucinations. The mystery woman begins to narrate the scene to Cassie as she trips out, leading her through a red forest and up to a house in a clearing that shifts back and forth from standing tall to crumbling into a pile of rubble.
Whether Cassie sees more than what’s shown to the viewer, it’s enough to drive anyone insane, and she only becomes more shaken as a figure in a gas mask, who may or may not be the Witness, approaches her. He’s not actually in the room with her, but she can hear him speaking to her while he remains silent to the audience.
Cassie shakes the visions just long enough to flee the scene, which is convenient timing because Cole and Aaron just happen to have broken into the facility at the same moment. After their team-up earlier in the episode, Aaron wants a plan this time around, echoing Cassie’s desire for a plan before heading into the Night Room. Cole says there’s no time for a plan, to which Aaron points out, “But you’re a time traveler.”
Cole is not one for plans, though, instead just storming into the building and gunning down any Monkey in his path. Taking out the very last guard seems to do the trick to ensuring Cassie’s safety, as Cole splinters back to 2043 when he kills one last guard. And if Aaron had been a skeptic beforehand, he certainly isn’t after seeing a man vanish before his eyes.
The jump back to 2043 takes its toll on Cole, however, as he begins to cough up a storm when he’s in his own time period. Jones hooks him up for a blood transfusion as Ramse watches over him, nudging Cole for information about badass Ramse. (Cole clarifies, though, that he didn’t mean badass, he meant to say pain in the ass.)
He may be in good enough spirits to joke around, but he understands how serious his predicament is. Cole confronts Jones about what the time travel is doing to his body, referencing what alternate-history Jones told him about this mission being full of sacrifice.
“Eventually I’m not coming back, am I,” he asks her, but she sidesteps the question by explaining that if he succeeds, he won’t have to worry about coming back. “Time is going to take what it’s going to. Eventually it will kill you,” she tells him, but what he really wants is a number. A number of jumps he has left before time kills him. “Not as many as I’d like,” she not so hopefully replies, leaving the future just as uncertain as it was when they began their mission.
- Whitley is a wet blanket in the alternate timeline too, a nice throughline to show that for as much things changed, many of these characters stayed the same, even the ones who are kind of terrible people.
- The entire episode is a great showpiece for Aaron Stanford as Cole. He’s done well throughout the series, but he really comes into the character in “Forest.” He nails a number of comedic beats, from calling out Aaron (the character, not himself—it can be confusing) when he attempts to throw Cole’s parking lot plan out of whack to when he’s exasperated over Aaron asking for a plan. Stanford has played Cole relatively straight so far, so it’s exciting to see him with more of an edge this time out.
- The show has largely refrained from Cole being surprised by pre-apocalypse concepts like smartphones and movie theaters, it was amusing to see him have no idea of what “calling 911” would mean.
- Stanford did also pull off a great serious moment during a car ride between Cole and Aaron. He explains a metaphor that Ramse told him, focused on the idea that everyone has two wolves inside them, one for good and one for bad virtues. But they’re both hungry. What defines a person’s character is which wolf they decide to feed. It’s a little heavy-handed, but the show rarely delves into the morality of its characters and what has happened, so it’s nice to see the show aiming to explore a deeper level.
- Cassie’s hallucinations mirror the ones Cole had when he was drugged by Deacon several weeks ago. There’s a good chance both visions will play into the show’s ongoing mythology, but for now it was a trippy but utterly random sequence this time around.
- As I mentioned, this was perhaps the show at its funniest, with Stanford shining as Cole showing a little more sarcasm, and again the bromance between Ramse and Cole continues to be a highlight of 12 Monkeys. Kirk Acevedo and Stanford know how to play off each other but also convey that these two guys deeply care about each other’s safety.